By Anya Parampil, Anchor/Correspondent at RT America
As the occupation by a group of armed, militia-style far-right activists led by Ammon Bundy dragged on at a federal wildlife refuge in rural Oregon, some began to demand that the mainstream media label the occupiers as “terrorists.” Commenters like Wajahat Ali at the Guardian and Janell Ross at the Washington Post homed in on the blanket descriptions of Muslims as potential violent extremists and black protesters as “thugs,” questioning why it didn’t apply the same sort of politically charged label to the white militia types carrying out a subversive action in Oregon.
Juliette Kayyem, a Department of Homeland Security Advisory Committee member and CNN National Security contributor, went a step further, arguing that the Oregon occupiers were terrorists “by any definition.” Kayyem did not offer any definition of terrorism, however, nor did she put forward a coherent strategy for flushing out those guilty of such a grave federal crime. While warning against a disproportionate Waco-style raid on the wildlife refuge, Kayyem simultaneously argued for a “show of federal force.” Despite having promoted herself as a “Security Mom,” it seemed that Kayyem had not fully thought through the consequences of designating a motley band of armed rightists as terrorists, or how such a label would lead to a favorable outcome.
Someone who knows through first-hand experience the consequences of expanding the definition of terrorism to advance the state’s short-term political imperatives is Will Potter. An experienced environmental activist and acclaimed investigative journalist, Potter testified before Congress in 2006 about the anti-democratic impact of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which labeled many animal rights activists who engaged in direct action against factory farms and laboratories that practiced animal testing as terrorists. He argued that the law, which was the product of heavy lobbying by the agricultural industry, would do nothing to deter radical animal rights activism while needlessly ruining the lives of committed activists, dooming them to decades in prison for crimes that harmed no one.
On January 6, I interviewed Potter on RT America about the wildlife refuge occupation in Oregon and asked him about the potential consequences of the media, and by extension, the federal government designating Bundy and his men as “terrorists.”
“If there’s anything I walked away with [in writing my book],” Potter remarked to me, “it’s that the term [terrorist] is always used as a political weapon against the enemy of the hour. It’s a malleable term that can be manipulated and distorted based on the whims of whoever is in power… those power systems can change. And when people in power have the authority to label animal rights and environmental activists as terrorists and also label militia groups or others because of their politics it just expands that scope even further.”
“It can redefine people within the prison system,” Potter says of the term, and can lead to them being sent to “experimental prison units for people classified as ‘terrorists.’” Potter has identified the war on terror as a revival of the Red Scare, explaining how McCarthyite tactics are used to identify leftist dissidents and Muslim activists as terrorists— and how they are ultimately jailed together at maximum security federal Communications Management Units. He is the only investigative journalist to gain access to CMUs.
Potter went on to urge journalists to exercise restraint in using the word “terrorist,” rather than expanding it in an attempt to undermine the ranchers in Oregon. Potter explained that “the media coverage of the standoff has failed in the regard that it hasn’t been describing these armed militia groups as what they are,” which he described as “an armed resistance movement.”
Watch my full interview with Potter here: